Discipline and self-confidence, two of the keys that have helped Martin Braithwaite, who is training three times harder than normal in his team, go from Leganés to Barcelona without disappointing.
When you don’t have the talent of the great, you need to make up for it in some way. When your technical quality hasn’t placed you among the best, other factors could. It can be intelligence, it can be hard work, it can be mentality. In Martin Braithwaite’s case, it’s a combination of all of these. Conscious of certain limitations that seemed to be only enough for minor sides, he has held on to any possible factor to raise his ceiling and become a valuable piece for a club of the stature of nothing less than Barcelona.
After some spectacular years at Toulouse followed by a less successful spell at Middlesbrough, Braithwaite seemed to have found his place at Leganés. One of the key figures in a team in a league of the dimension of La Liga, and saving them several points in the Pepineros‘ own battles. At Toulouse and Leganés he was great, yet no one would have imagined that he would be able to suddenly make the leap to Barça. Of course, one could argue that there was a strong luck factor in that transfer. The injuries of Dembélé and Suárez, the exit of Carles Pérez, and the possibility to make an emergency signing in February by the blaugranas. Admittedly, Martin was bought, but it could have perfectly been someone like Ángel Rodríguez, Willian José, Loren Morón or Lucas Pérez.
But, while arriving to Barcelona is tough as fortune always takes a big part in it, what’s hardest is to prove to have the level to play for the culés. In fact, Braithwaite, who was good with Lega, has not looked out of place at any moment at the Camp Nou. Quite the opposite, actually, as in his three games in blue and red he has already shown that he’s a footballer the squad needed a long time ago. To be more accurate, it has not even been three games for Barça: two cameo appearances against Eibar and Real Madrid, and an impressive first start and 89 minutes versus Real Sociedad. In total, 128 minutes, but these have been enough to demonstrate that he could even be missed in this season’s Champions League. And that he could perfectly be staying in Catalonia for longer.
❛ I’m sure I’ll stay for more than four and a half years at Barça. That’s how I see it in my head ❜
In his latest interviews, Braithwaite has shown a degree of self-confidence, passion and professionalism few times seen before, more so for a guy with his trajectory. Or perhaps, and most likely, this self-confidence is what has allowed him to have this surprising later stage of his trajectory. His words to the Danish public television DR prove this. “Barça’s plan is only a third part of my training, because I have added a lot more to it. I exercise my speed and stamina. I’m training much more thoroughly now than before, so I’ll be back in much better physical shape”. More than a setback given his great form, this break could even benefit Martin.
❛ Dembélé and Semedo are the fastest players in the squad. Braithwaite is also very fast ❜
“I have to be a starter and a goalscorer. When you play for Barcelona you have a lot of opportunities, so there is no doubt that I see myself scoring a lot of goals and being one of the top scorers in the team and in La Liga. That’s why I’m here”. Hard work which, he’s convinced, “will have a huge reward”. “Now there is a break, I see it as an advantage. I know there’s no one who trains and works as I do. When I come back I will be ready physically and mentally”, he continued. For him, this hiatus of activity is not dramatic for his shape. Even he described the possible returns from injury of Suárez and Dembélé as “fantastic”, as competition will make him better. “I feel I’ve done well, but I know I can do even better”.
❛ Was signing for Barça moving out of my comfort zone? In some ways, yes. But that’s not what I fear. I came here for a challenge. Be smart. It’s the key to success ❜
His former coach at Toulouse, Pascal Dupraz, said to Le Parisien back in February when the move to Barça was made official: “I’m neither surprised nor worried for him. Martin has always had high ambitions. By that time, he already told to me that he wanted to play for the biggest clubs in the world. Perhaps he needs to set unachievable objectives, because he ends up achieving them”. In so little time at Barcelona the 28-year-old has already proved that he could be very useful for Setién, thanks to his direct and intelligent movements, his explosive quality, his determination and positional understanding. And his work ethic and self-confidence. Prepare yourself for Martin Braithwaite once football is back.
Koeman’s system in the Barcelona 4-0 Villareal
With a 4-0 victory at the Camp Nou, Koeman’s side has started the season on a positive note. Find out more about the tactical aspect of the match in this tactical analysis of Barcelona’s match against Villareal.
La Liga is finally back, and it’s back in full swing. We saw many high-scoring matches, with even Atleti scoring 6 goals against Granada. A very entertaining start to La Liga was capped off by Barcelona’s 4-0 Victory over Villareal. Koeman’s first La Liga game in-charge of Barcelona was a resounding success. The mindset of the players involved was clearly different from the mindset under Setien. With many players looking rejuvenated, Barcelona put in a performance which was desperately needed considering the fact that the wounds from Lisbon haven’t yet healed. Find out just how Barcelona managed to dominate a strong Villareal side in this tactical analysis.
Barcelona started out in a 4-2-3-1 as expected. The only surprise was that Messi’s starting position was more central than usual and Griezmann occupied the right-wing. Messi does eventually drift towards the centre anyway but the starting position is usually wider.
Villareal were in a 4-4-2 which later transitioned into a 4-4-2 diamond in the second half after the substitutions. Right from the start, Villareal looked to press from the front, with Chukwueze and Moi Gomez cutting out passing lanes to the full-backs and the two Villareal strikers pressing Barcelona’s center-backs. Here, an advantage of the 4-2-3-1 Koeman deployed was immediately visible. De Jong would drop back to receive the ball and then play it forward to Busquets, who was the other pivot. Had Barcelona played a 4-3-3, the pivot would have dropped back to receive the ball and build-up from the back in this case. But the midfield would be stretched vertically which we saw many times last season.
In midfield, Barcelona were prevented from playing through the centre by Parejo and Coquelin. The distance between Villareal’s midfield and defense lines was not much which forced Barcelona towards the wings. This strategy came back to bite Villareal in the form of Ansu Fati. The 17-year-old left-winger was unplayable against Villareal. Gaspar was unable to contain him. Jordi Alba was much better than in a long time. The work-rate Koeman demands and the many extra training sessions were really showing. After a 2019/20 season which wasn’t the best for Barcelona, yesterday’s performance was very impressive.
Both wingers would regularly tuck-in between the full-backs and center-halves. This allowed Barcelona’s full-backs to advance up the field much more. With the full-backs attacking and the wingers tucking in, the Villareal defensive line would be occupied. This allowed Coutinho more space than usual. Along with this, Busquets and De Jong would be available to either stop the counter, or to act as passing options. This assortment of many attacking roles allowed Barcelona to have sustained attacking possession.
Villareal had a clear game plan as well. Considering the fact that their two strikers are performing well and are well-synchronized, the wingers were instructed to cross the ball often. The full-backs would advance, but not overlap frequently. This could either not be a part of the game plan or because of the attacking threat, Barcelona posed from the start. With Dani Parejo in midfield, Emery would ideally be able to continue playing the possession-based football his teams play. Coquelin would offer a bit of dynamism in midfield along with the Spanish midfielder.
However, Koeman took an interesting decision and gave Busquets the role to man-mark Parejo. Though both were surprisingly not the best on the ball on the day, Busquets did well to restrict Parejo to lateral and back passes. In the second-half, Vilalreal’s game plan was executed better in the 4-4-2 diamond. This allowed Parejo to get on the ball more, wit him playing a major role in the build-up. Emery knows his players’ strengths very well. Parejo in the defensive mid role, with pacey wingers on either sides means fast transitions. For Barcelona s well, the transitions were key. Coutinho’s mediapunta role and the freedom Messi has both contributed to this.
We already saw the many benefits this formation has offered, taking the strengths of the players Koeman has into full consideration. The ease during build-up with one pivot dropping back, being able to sustain the attack with the mediapunta getting more space, the freedom Busquets had to man-mark Parejo, which would have been difficult in a single pivot, etc. Another one of the advantages is in defense.
Barcelona were vulnerable in defense throughout last season. Jordi Alba looks like refreshed and fitter than usual, and with Dest potentially joining the Blaugrana, the full-backs are looking promising. In case that Barcelona does get caught on the counter, Koeman does have a solution to one of the problems. When Barcelona are on the backfoot, De Jong and Busquets would need to make sure their positioning is immaculate. They were instructed to plug the gaps between the center-halves and full-backs, which would have a two-fold purpose. Firstly, through-balls against more creative players would be much more difficult, with the gaps being reduced and Coutinho and Griezmann helping in defense. Secondly, the opposition would be less likely to crowd the box, since Barcelona can now afford to get at least 4 players into the box if the pivots were to position themselves as such. However, this would be very dependent on the split-second judgment and whether the players decide to press or track-back.
For Koeman’s first La Liga match, the performance was quite promising. Barcelona looked better tactically and in terms of hard work than Villareal as we saw in this tactical analysis. The latter being something that Barcelona desperately need, what remains to be seen is how Barcelona will fare against teams that rely on individual ability more than Villareal and the unpredictability that follows. Apart from this, will the players be able to sustain the intense work ethic Koeman demands? If Barcelona do decently in these conditions and some others, we might see a much better season from them than expected.